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Democratic Senators sue to block Whitaker. TRANSCRIPT: 11/19/18, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Ron Klain, Corey Brettschneider, Neera Tanden, Tim O`Brien, Tom Nichols, Jennifer Wexton

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST:  He walked all the way around that wagon that has the tree on it, he greeted the driver, he looked at the horses. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Well, did he look at the horses, really? 


VELSHI:  Rachel --

MADDOW:  That might have been on the checklist. 

VELSHI:  I will leave it by saying I`m enjoying the podcast a great deal. 

MADDOW:  Oh, thank you very much.  Episode five, we just posted. 

VELSHI:  That`s right. 

All right.  Have a great evening, Rachel.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI:  I`m Ali Velshi, in for Lawrence O`Donnell. 

The pressure from Robert Mueller`s probe is mounting for President Trump.  The president could be less than 72 hours from handing over his first written answers to special counsel Robert Mueller under possible penalty of perjury as he continues to face criticism over the man that he just put in charge of overseeing the Mueller investigation. 

NBC news reports, quote, President Donald Trump`s legal team plans to submit answers to special counsel Robert Mueller by Thanksgiving.  But the president will not be answering any questions related to obstruction of justice, which happens to be central to the investigation. 

The president had previously claimed he was 100 percent willing to sit down with the special counsel, but now, he`s finally admitted in a new interview with Fox News, that he has no intention of talking to Robert Mueller. 


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST, FOX NEWS SUNDAY:  Is that your final position, that there`s going to be no sit down interview and nothing written or in person on obstruction? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I would say probably.  Probably.  I mean, I can change my mind, but probably.  I think we`ve wasted enough time on this witch hunt. 


VELSHI:  Anyone wondering why the president has now taken his lawyer`s advice to not talk to Robert Mueller in person and under oath needs only to look at the president`s consistent inability to tell the truth. 

In that new Fox News interview, he said this about the acting -- the new acting attorney general whom he just picked to oversee Robert Mueller. 


WALLACE:  Did you know before you appointed him that he had that record and was so critical of Robert Mueller? 

TRUMP:  I did not know that.  I did not know he took views on the Mueller investigation as such. 

WALLACE:  And when you found that out? 

TRUMP:  I don`t think it had any effect.  If you look at those statements, those statements can really be viewed either way.  But I don`t think --

WALLACE:  But he says there`s no collusion, he says you can starve the investigation --

TRUMP:  What do you do when a person`s right?  There is no collusion.  He happened to be right. 


VELSHI:  No idea, no affect.  The president said he had no idea -- no idea Matthew Whitaker was a vocal critic of the Mueller investigation before he chose him to oversee the Mueller investigation.  That is patently false. 

People close to the president told "The New York Times," quote, Mr. Whitaker first came to the attention of Mr. Trump because he liked watching Mr. Whitaker express skepticism about aspects of Mr. Mueller`s investigation on television. 

We`ve all seen it.  Bald guy, looks like me says the Mueller investigation doesn`t make sense, and you can starve it of funds.  This is not the first contradictory claim Donald Trump made about Matt Whitaker. 


TRUMP:  I don`t know Matt Whitaker.  I can tell you Matt Whitaker`s a great guy.  I mean, I know Matt Whitaker. 


VELSHI:  I don`t know Matt Whitaker, I know Matt Whitaker.  If Donald Trump can`t tell Fox News the truth about Matt Whitaker, what are the chances that he could tell Robert Mueller the truth about Russia or about the firing of James Comey?  The president was also asked in that interview about the fear that he appointed Matthew Whitaker to interfere with the investigation of the president.


WALLACE:  If Whitaker decides in any way to limit or curtail the Mueller investigation, are you okay with that? 

TRUMP:  Look, he -- it`s going to be up to him.  I think he`s very well aware politically.  I think he`s astute politically.  He`s a very smart person, a very respected person.  He`s going to do what`s right.  I really believe he`s going to do what`s right. 

WALLACE:  But you want to overrule him if he decides to curtail --

TRUMP:  I would not get involved. 


VELSHI:  Today, Democrats are trying to fight back against what they see as the president`s unconstitutional choice of Whitaker.  Three Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have filed a lawsuit challenging Whitaker`s appointment.  Senators Richard Blumenthal, who you just saw on Rachel, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Mazie Hirono are asking a federal district court judge in Washington to block Matthew Whitaker, quote, from performing the functions and duties of the office of the attorney general of the United States. 

They say President Trump`s decision to make him acting A.G. violates the Constitution`s Appointments Clause because Matthew Whitaker has not been confirmed to any government position by the United States Senate.  Now, this is the third legal challenge to Whitaker.  But despite the fears, Mueller`s investigation continues undeterred at least for now. 

Mueller`s legal team filed a brief today in a case in the D.C. Court of Appeals saying the new acting attorney general neither alters the special counsel`s authority nor raises any jurisdictional issue. 

Joining us now Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney and professor of law at the University of Michigan.  She`s an MSNBC legal contributor. 

Also joining us, Ron Klain, former chiefs of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, and a former senior aide to President Obama. 

And Corey Brettschneider is a professor of political science at Brown University.  He`s the author of the new book, "The Oath and the Office: A Guide to the Constitution for Future Presidents," which makes me think that Corey has decided this president is not interested in reading his book. 

Thanks to all of you for being with us.

Barbara, let me just start with you.  The president said such remarkable things in the interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News.  He says that Matthew Whitaker`s views as he has articulated them in columns, in op-eds and on TV have no effect.  They can be viewed differently by different people, and it`s going to be up to him. 

There`s nobody in the world who thinks this is up to Matthew Whitaker.  In fact, everybody, all sentient beings understand that Matthew Whitaker has been put in office to do the president`s bidding, because the president said to all sorts of people, including Lester Holt, that the reason he got rid of James Comey and ultimately of the last attorney general was because he recused himself, because he wasn`t going to do the right thing or the president`s bidding, if you will. 

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Yes, I think President Trump has made it clear what he really wants in an attorney general is not an independent thinker to administer the laws of the country but someone who will protect him and serve as his personal lawyer.  He said before I want my Roy Cohn.  He`s made reference to priors attorneys general he perceived to be there to protect the president. 

And I think another telling thing about that is he had a perfectly good Senate confirmed candidate ready to take the reins in Rod Rosenstein, a person that President Trump himself appointed, that would be the obvious choice.  But instead he picks someone else, someone completely unknown, someone who seems of very questionable qualifications, and leapfrog Rod Rosenstein to put Matt Whitaker in place.  I think looking at all those other things, the only thing that explains that appointment is as you say wanting someone to be there to do his bidding. 

VELSHI:  Corey, Richard Blumenthal, the senator from Connecticut, was on with Rachel just a while ago.  Always successful these days to quote Alexander Hamilton.  Here`s what he was saying about Alexander Hamilton and what the Founding Fathers were thinking about why you have to be careful about a guy like Matt Whitaker. 

Let`s listen together.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Alexander Hamilton said it on behalf of the Founders, they want to prevent a president from appointing people who were of such insignificance and pliancy as to render them obsequious instruments of his pleasure.  And that`s Matt Whitaker, an instrument of the president`s pleasure, known as his eyes and ears in the Department of Justice.  So there`s an immense practical significance and harm to us in our inability to advise and consent, to hold hearings and say whether we approve of this nominee or not. 


VELSHI:  Two important points there.  First of all, the court will ask what harm do you suffer outstanding in this, and he`s saying our harm is our inability to advise and consent to hold hearings and say whether we approve of the nominee.  But I thought more interesting was where he said, he suggested Matt Whitaker is of such insignificance and pliancy as to render them obsequious instruments of his pleasure, meaning the president`s pleasure. 

COREY BRETTSCHNEIDER, AUTHOR, "THE OATH AND THE OFFICE":  Yes, I mean, the entire idea the framers had of an confirmation process was to have two branches involved to ensure we had a high quality person in office.  And certainly the Constitution means what it says, which is that principal officers have to be confirmed by the Senate.  And that ensures that we don`t get an acting attorney general who has dubious views. 

This attorney general has said for instance that he thinks that Marbury versus Madison, the case that decided the court`s power of judicial review, to look over the other branches, is flawed and a bad decision.  I mean, that`s somebody who`s basically at odds with the fundamental principles of our system. 

VELSHI:  Ron, let me just ask you this, though, you have worked for presidents and vice presidents in an era that goes back a few presidents now, in which the White House and the administration have pushed the limits of what they believe presidential powers to be.  Ultimately, Senate- approved or not, the president gets to choose who his attorney general is going to be.  He does seem to want to choose someone who will do his bidding as it relates to the Mueller investigation. 

Do you think he just misstepped in not realizing that Matt Whitaker having said all these things on TV and in print was going to come under fire barb because he could probably have found somebody who didn`t have much of a paper trail but still do his bidding? 

RON KLAIN, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:  Well, perhaps, Ali, but that person would have to sit before the Senate.  As Senate Blumenthal said on Rachel`s show, answer questions about their views, testify under oath and then subject themselves Tuesday a vote. 

Look, if Donald Trump can replace Jeff Session with a non-Senate confirmed person from that cabinet department, then he could fire every single cabinet secretary and replace them with a collection of family members, frauds, fabulous, and in fact totems he likes to staff the federal government with.  I mean, that`s the kind of presidential overreach he`s claiming.  He`s saying for 210 days, seven months, he can stick any person he wants in any cabinet seat, in every cabinet seat. 

And that`s an overreach that I think the courts will ultimately rein in, and it certainly has to be reined in if we`re going to have a constitutional system of appointments. 

VELSHI:  All right.  Importantly, Barbara McQuade, we believe he might be submitting questions before Thursday, before Thanksgiving to the Mueller investigation.  Here`s what he said to say about it. 


WALLACE:  Your team is preparing written answers to questions about --

TRUMP:  No, not my team.  I`m preparing written answers.  I`m the one that does the answer.  Yes, are they writing them out? 


TRUMP:  Yes, they`re writing what I tell them to write. 

WALLACE:  Are they going to be submitted? 

TRUMP:  At some point very soon, yes.  I completed them. 


VELSHI:  Barbara, what`s the significance of I completed them, I wrote them out, they wrote them out, my answers, what does it all mean?  Does it any of that matter? 

MCQUADE:  Well, I think he`s trying to show to the American people that he`s his own man, he`s answering.  He`s not lawyered up, but no doubt his lawyers have had a very active role in all of this.  My guess is what happened is there have been reports that he`s sat down with lawyers in sessions where they`ve talked with him through his answers. 

He needs to provide the substance of those answers, but no doubt lawyers have carefully crafted the language of those answers to try to put qualifiers on them and other things, to prevent them from being used against him to the best of their ability.  So I don`t know that matters a whole lot other than posturing and puffing to make himself look like he`s the one in charge. 

VELSHI:  Ron, let`s talk about the tweet the president sent out yesterday attacking the Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, who we`ve had on this show a lot.  We know his name is Adam Schiff.  The president`s talked about him. 

The tweet, however, reads differently.  So funny to see little Adam Schiff talking about the fact that Attorney General Matt Whitaker was not approved by the Senate, but not mentioning the fact that Bob Mueller who is highly conflicted was not approved by the Senate.

I don`t know ultimately.  I`ve been away.  I don`t know whether he corrected it.  I know he sent out several tweets thereafter without correcting the error in Adam Schiff`s name. 

More importantly, there`s this red herring that the president is throwing out there about Robert Mueller not being Senate-approved, but Matt Whitaker for another position having been Senate approved. 

What`s he doing here? 

KLAIN:  Well, first of all, he`s using a third grade nickname for the incoming chairman of the house intelligence committee, which tells you a lot about our president.  But the rest of it as you say is a red herring.  The position of special counsel is not required by law to be subjected to Senate confirmation.  The position of attorney general is.

Oh, and by the way, Mr. Mueller has, of course, been previously confirmed by the Senate several times for two senior positions, FBI director and deputy attorney general.  He has unimpeachable credentials for those jobs. 

And so, this is an effort to stir the pot, muck things up and distract from the fact he`s claiming unilateral power to pick any person he wants in America and stick them in as the head of the Justice Department.  There`s no constitutional basis for that and exceeds his authorities as president. 

VELSHI:  And, of course, Adam Schiff responded by tweet to Donald Trump.  He said, wow, Mr. President that`s a good one, was that like your answers to Mr. Mueller`s questions or did you write this one yourself? 


Barbara McQuade, Ron Klain, Corey Brettschneider, thanks to all three of you for being with us tonight. 

Coming up, the former Navy SEAL who reportedly killed Osama bin Laden is defending a mission after an attack from President Trump. 

And the anti-Pelosi Democrats go on the record.  But is it enough to defy her the speakership?  Here`s what one of the incoming freshman member -- hear what one of the incoming freshman member of Congress thinks about that fight. 

And up next, the breaking news tonight from "The Washington Post."  Ivanka Trump used a personal e-mail account to send hundred of e-mails about government business last year.  The reaction from the White House after this.


VELSHI:  Breaking news out of the White House tonight: a new report from "The Washington Post" reveals that Ivanka Trump sent, quote, hundreds of e- mails to White House aides, cabinet officials and her assistants using a personal e-mail account, many of them in violation of federal records rules.  In a statement issued via spokesperson, Ivanka Trump`s lawyer attempted to explain away her use of personal e-mail by saying she`d only used it prior to being briefed on the rules governing e-mail usage. 

Well, if only someone had told Ivanka Trump what the White House policy is on using your personal e-mail before she started working there. 


TRUMP:  It`s unbelievable how Hillary Clinton got away with the e-mail lie, the e-mail scam, the e-mail corruption. 

We know Hillary can`t be trusted.  We`ve learned that with America`s security.  You take a look at her e-mail situation.  Can we trust her with our security? 

How can Hillary manage this country when she can`t even manage her e-mails? 

She doesn`t even remember whether or not she was instructed on how to use e-mails.  Were you instructed on how to use them?  I can`t remember. 


VELSHI:  I guess Ivanka wasn`t listening to those rallies. 

Joining me now, one of the reporters who broke the story, Carol Leonnig, political investigations reporter for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor. 

Carol, this is kind of fascinating.  Somebody in the Trump orbit using personal e-mails for government business. 

CAROL LEONNIG, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  It sure is.  And it`s sort of one of those deja vu, hit your forehead into a wall, what is going on here? 

Essentially, Ivanka Trump set off a little bit of a four alarm fire in the White House in the fall of 2017.  A public records request found that she was using her personal e-mails, but when the White House and various lawyers and ethicists in the White House started digging, they realized actually she was using it more than anybody else in the White House.  And sometimes she was referring to public business, sometimes she was writing to White House aides about public policy.  And sometimes she was doing just logistical arranging, but she was still talking about government work on a personal e-mail. 

And in this expensive review, which now we finally know about through our reporting, the White House was saying we`ve got to do something about this because it appears that she`s violated the Presidential Records Act multiple times. 

VELSHI:  So we learned last year that Jared Kushner uses a private e-mail account.  "Politico" is reporting the presidential son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner has corresponded with other administration officials about White House matters through a private e-mail account setup during the transition last December.  That has a slightly more sinister feel to it because it was setup during the transition. 

But the number of Trump emails now reported to have used private e-mail accounts for government business include Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Stephen Bannon, now gone from the White House, Reince Priebus, now gone, Gary Cohn, now gone, Stephen Miller still there in the White House. 

So, again, this may be normal.  This may not be normal, but for an administration that ran pretty much an entire campaign about the use of private e-mail for government business, what happens now? 

LEONNIG:  Well, you know, basically, Ivanka Trump`s lawyers and her ethical counselor have argued to the White House counsel`s office, look, we fixed this problem.  She may have violated the rules, she may have made some mistakes, but we fixed it because we`ve personally gone through all of her e-mails and reviewed them ourselves, and we`ve decided which ones are personal, which ones are work.  And the ones that are work, we`ve made sure we`ve archived and copied back to White House government accounts. 

Well, does that sound familiar to you?  It does to me because Hillary Clinton as you may remember said she reviewed her e-mails with a lawyer, a private attorney, and determined which ones were personal and which ones were public and which ones she would turn over to the State Department for archiving to comply with the law. 

Now, I mean, there are many differences between Ivanka and Clinton.  Ivanka didn`t create a server and install it in her basement.  But a lot of things are the same and they`re going to touch off a fire storm about why this wouldn`t be a higher priority or why the first family wouldn`t be trying to meet a higher standard after the pretty bitter campaign of 2016 that hinged on this subject so, so dearly. 

VELSHI:  So, Carol, there are a lot of people who watch the campaign, the presidential campaign and I think rightfully generationally wondered what this was about largely because people don`t understand these things as clearly as they do. 

Is the White House and the administration now clear on what the appropriate use of personal e-mail versus government e-mail is?  Should everybody be very clear on that now? 

LEONNIG:  Well, yes.  Except, you know, in recent days we`ve done some reporting looking at all sorts of different kinds of encrypted or secretive communications that we are told White House officials still use from time to time with foreign officials.  I hope that people understand that the Presidential Records Act requires that government business be stored, everything that they say that has to do with their public job be stored and archived.  But, you know, we`ll see.  I would imagine we might have more eruptions of this kind. 

VELSHI:  Carol, good to talk to you.  Thank you for your reporting on this. 

Carol Leonnig is a political investigations reporter for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor. 

Let`s continue with this conversation with Neera Tanden.  She`s the president of the Center for American Progress.  She`s also was Hillary Clinton`s policy director during the 2008 presidential campaign. 

Neera, what comes to mind?  What are you thinking about when you`re hearing that Ivanka Trump was using personal e-mail for government business?  Because there was a time when normal people would have said, oh, maybe they didn`t know. 

NEERA TANDEN, HILLARY CLINTON 2008 CAMPAIGN FORMER POLICY DIRECTOR:  I mean, if my eyes could roll back so far into my head, they just might not come back. 

I mean, here`s the issue.  It`s really -- it`s hard to know what is -- what is more at work here.  Just an incredible arrogance or I have to say stupidity, because the truth is Ivanka Trump claiming that she didn`t know about the rules, no one briefed her, did you not hear about the "lock her up" chants on this subject that resounded through halls throughout this country at the demand of her father?  I mean the whole thing is ludicrous. 

I mean, what I think is important about this moment is the Presidential Records Act is really about preserving records, exactly what Ivanka Trump did here is really what Hillary Clinton did in the form and function.  And my view is every Republican, every single Republican with Hillary Clinton that made her testify for 11 1/2 hours should want, not want -- demand to hear from Ivanka Trump on this subject.  And if they don`t, we will all know that all of that was hypocrisy after hypocrisy. 

And we may just say, oh, this is just another Trump scandal.  But the truth is this was the core argument against Hillary Clinton.  This was the argument of lock her -- that animated lock her up chants, that they still use. 

VELSHI:  That still continues. 

TANDEN:  That still continue.  And I think it`s outrageous that Republicans would just get away with not holding a hearing.  I expect Lindsey Graham to hold a hearing on this. 

VELSHI:  I hear you, but the frustration, of course, is that Republicans, Trey Gowdy went on --  I mean, how long this gone, for two, three years?  They went on -- went on with it for a long time.

TANDEN:  Forty hearings. 

VELSHI:  For 40 hearings, and a lot of people in the country sort of said, what are you all carrying on about?  This is little bit ridiculous. 

I guess using that -- applying that standard, should Republicans demand that from Ivanka Trump, or have we all come around to the idea that some of this is bad policy, some of this is bad practice and some of it is ridiculous? 

TANDEN:  I think what should happen is one of the reasons why Democrats won the House back is for accountability, simple accountability.  So when scandals like this erupt, we actually have an answer, a response, instead of everyone sweeping it under the rug. 

VELSHI:  Right.

TANDEN:  So I hope Congressman Cummings holds hearings on this, and he should just ask the simple question of the Ivanka Trump.  Is what Hillary did wrong and what you did right? 

VELSHI:  Right.

TANDEN:  And I`d love to know her answer.  And if she violated the Presidential Records Act, she should be held accountable just like any other person in the administration. 

VELSHI:  Kind of remarkable, though, when you see that list of six people in and around the White House who were doing this given that an entire campaign was run on the basis of this. 

TANDEN:  But they did -- I`ll just say, they did this.  She did this, people -- the White House has been run like there`s no accountability.  And the good news is that that changed on November 6th. 

VELSHI:  Neera, good to see you always, thank you.  Neera Tanden is the president of the Center for American Progress. 

Coming up next, after skipping Veterans Day events, President Trump is now attacking the Navy SEAL who led the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, suggesting bin Laden could have been caught sooner.  The remarks have drawn sharp criticism from officials who were actually involved in the raid.  What they have to say after the break. 


VELSHI:  President Trump is not backing down from his attacks on the Navy SEAL commander who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.  In an interview, Sunday on "Fox News", Trump attacked retired Admiral William McRaven claiming he should have taken out Osama bin Laden sooner.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, FOX NEWS:  Bill McRaven, a retired admiral, Navy SEAL, 37 years, former head of U.S. Special Operations.


WALLACE:  Special operations -- yes.

TRUMP: Excuse me, Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE:  Who led the operations, command of the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and that killed Osama bin Laden says that your sediment is the greatest threat to democracy in his life.

TRUMP:  OK.  He`s a Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer.  And frankly --

WALLACE:  He was a Navy SEAL.

TRUMP:  -- wouldn`t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that?


VELSHI:  Tonight, President Trump doubled down on his attack against retired Admiral McRaven tweeting "Of course, we should have captured Osama bin Laden long before we did."  The members of the military and intelligence communities are fighting back against Trump`s criticism of McRaven.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  This president owes Admiral McRaven and all of the SEALS involved in that operation an apology for what he`s saying.  He`s undermining his position as commander in chief not only with those that conducted the operation but with the entire military.

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. & ISAF FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN:  The president is simply wrong.  He`s uninformed, and he is pushing an idea that I think is not helpful.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE:  It`s really a slam at the intelligence community who was responsible for tracking down Osama bin Laden.  It reflects I think his complete ignorance about what that took.


VELSHI:  This isn`t the first time Donald Trump has attacked members of the military or the intelligence community.  In 2016, Trump insulted this man, Gold Star Father Khizr Khan whose son was killed in Iraq over his criticism of Trump at the Democratic National Convention.  Trump also mocked John McCain for being a prisoner of war and was slow to formally acknowledge McCain`s death by lowering flags to half-staff.  And in April, President Trump revoked former CIA director John Brennan`s security clearance in what was seen as retaliation for being an outspoken critic of the administration.

Admiral McRaven came to John Brennan`s defense writing of Trump in April, "Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage, and worst of all, divided us as a nation.  If you think for a moment that your McCarthy era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken."

Now, seven months later, here`s how Admiral McRaven responded to Trump`s personal attacks against him.  "I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else.  I`m a fan of President Obama and President George Bush, both of whom I worked for.  I admire all presidents, regardless of their political party who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times."

Joining us now, Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College.  Tim O`Brien, the executive editor of "Bloomberg Opinion", author of "TrumpNation, The Art of Being the Donald" and an MSNBC contributor.

Tim, let me start with you.  When Chris Wallace was trying to get answers out of the president in that "Fox News" interview, he kept interrupting him and saying he`s a Hillary Clinton backer, he`s an Obama backer, he`s a Hillary Clinton supporter.  This nonsense that McRaven accuses the president of engaging in, it actually does seem to work with some people.

In other words, there are some in the president`s orbit or base who hear McRaven as a Hillary Clinton backer or Obama backer that diminishes him in the eyes of those supporters.  This is former Navy SEAL who headed the attack on bin Laden that resulted in his death.

TIM O`BRIEN, AUTHOR, TRUMPNATION:  The successful capture --

VELSHI:  The successful capture.

O`BRIEN:  -- of Osama bin Laden after years of hard-fought intelligence work, military tracking.  This is part and parcel of the president`s assault on institutional forces in American society, whether it`s the judiciary, Congress, the media and, of course, the military.  And I think what`s unique when it comes to the military is I think career military officers and soldiers are almost willfully obedient to whoever is in the office.

Of course, they have their own opinions, but I think they see their jobs as serving the country, sometimes perhaps in a time of war.  And they understand that there`s a chain of command that they have to follow.  So this idea that his critics in the military are critics of him because they have political allegiances that are to him is ridiculous.

VELSHI:  Or may have had them to a prior commander in chief.

O`BRIEN:  In the past.  But these are highly trained career people who are serving the country.  And Trump`s own relationship to the military is somewhat cartoonish.  He loves swords.  He loves parades.  He loves military uniforms.

In his own autobiography, he pointed out that one of his proudest moments was leading his military school`s parade down Fifth Avenue when he got to put a uniform on.  Some of the first doormen at Trump Tower, he dressed them up in this red military jackets.  He loves all of the pomp and circumstance of the military, but he doesn`t attach himself to the sacrifice and the service that are also fundamental to military life --

VELSHI:  Right, which we saw on Veterans Day.

O`BRIEN:  -- because that`s who he is.

VELSHI:  Tom, here`s the problem, that when you take the attacks on the judiciary, you take the attacks on the press which continue, you take the attacks on the FBI, at some point when you overlay that behavior on history, it always looks the same.  It is dictatorial.  It is authoritarian.  The president as Tim has just pointed out has this cartoonish fetish with the military and yet shows disrespect in those moments that are most important.

TOM NICHOLS, PROFESSOR, U.S. NAVAL WAR COLLEGE:  Look, as always my views are those of my own and not the Navy or the government.  I think the problem here is that we`re always focused on the president`s comments, but we shouldn`t be surprised by them.  Because this issue that you raise, Ali, about institutions, institutions don`t have any independent existence for the president other than whether they`re for or against him.  That`s the only judgment he makes and we should be used to that by now.

VELSHI:  But shouldn`t we be very frightened by that?  Isn`t that a --

NICHOLS:  Of course.

VELSHI:  I mean that comment you make is so interesting because our country, our stability is based on these institutions.

NICHOLS:  Of course.  But there`s an even scarier story underneath this because again, the president is not going to change.  This is who he is.  This is not -- I mean I would have thought that after the attack on John McCain and the Gold Star families that perhaps that more people would have been upset by this.  But I think the bigger story underneath this is that the institutional Republican party has gone from embarrassment to silence to now full-throated support of these kinds of attacks.

That`s something that I think is really new, that it`s not just the president out there alone saying I don`t like this institution or that institution or this officer or that officer because he`s against me.  He has the backing of the actual GOP publicly as well as the silence of senior Republicans.  I think this is the real story underneath this that`s in some ways even more terrifying.  Again, these kinds of attacks, the president only judges things in terms of loyalty and disloyalty, not in terms of institutions that were there before him and that will come -- and that will still be there after him.

VELSHI:  I just hope this is such an opportunity, Tim, for everybody to read history.  Let`s start with the history of Osama bin Laden and those raids.  People should read them and understand them and understand that the peril, the real danger that faced anybody who got involved in that including those SEALS who were involved that very day, but more importantly this new normal of the cartoonish behavior, the tweet by the president about Adam Schiff in which he referred to him as Adam Schitt.

O`BRIEN:  Well, he`s become enabled.  You know this has worked for him.  The GOP has demonstrated a lack of political courage to sort of stand up for standard traditional values.

VELSHI:  This is the (INAUDIBLE) 4-year-old or 5-year-old.

O`BRIEN:  Or 3-year-old, you know.


O`BRIEN:  You know the old New York Gossip columnist Liz Smith once said to me, she had sort of Texas twang, and she said, "You know honey, the only thing you need to know about Donald Trump is he`s a 7-year-old grown old."  And that`s the case.  He`s been insulated from the impacts of his own mistakes almost from birth.  Because he was born wealthy, he became a celebrity, and now he`s the president.

Most of us try to learn from our past mistakes and adapt.  He`s never had to do that.  What`s interesting now is his mistakes affect a lot more people than his mistakes than when he was just a businessman or a kid growing up in Queens.  And the institutions around him or the adults around him who should reign him in and should be accounted for and forced, as Tom pointed out, aren`t stepping up and he`s empowered by that.

VELSHI:  So, Tom, you know, when he attacks the judiciary -- I think the judiciary can take care of itself unless he undermines it to the degree that it becomes dangerous.  When he attacks the press, it`s fine, we can take care of ourselves.  When he attacks the FBI, I get a little worried about recruitment to the FBI.  The numbers we know are down.  And when he attacks the military, I get very worried about morale.

We have members of the military who serve and give their lives all across the world who don`t get much recognition even when they die.  And then the president starts attacking these institutions in this fashion.  What does that do to the men and women of our military?

NICHOLS:  One concern I have is that the tone is set at the top.  I mean this is the commander in chief speaking with utter contempt in an almost childish way about a member of Congress.  You know, this is not an American value.  It`s not a Democratic value.  It`s speaking --

VELSHI:  Or McRaven, somebody who`s highly decorated and well regarded.

NICHOLS:  Well, actually, members of the military could not speak about a U.S. congressman the way the president is talking about Adam Schiff.  I mean it`s -- I think, you know, there has to be some sense of respect for the other elected branch.  I mean the Congress is the Article 1 branch of our Constitution and of our political system.  And it`s OK to have political scraps and Danny Brooks.  It`s not OK to fundamentally question the legitimacy or the basic humanity of members of Congress by treating them and acting like you`re on a playground.

VELSHI:  Tom, is there any merit -- I mean I haven`t discussed it in this conversation.  So I`ll just ask you for a quick answer.  Is there any merit to discussing Donald Trump`s view that we should have gotten Osama bin Laden earlier?

NICHOLS:  The problem with that, as Tim was pointing out and as in your earlier clips, blaming the military for not getting bin Laden earlier is not to understand whose job it was to find bin Laden.  And so this notion, I mean you can argue that Clinton had a shot at him and the lawyers perhaps didn`t want to do that.  But I just don`t think that`s a worthwhile discussion anymore and I don`t think it`s fair to anybody.

VELSHI:  Tom, good to talk to you.  Thank you so much for joining us.

Tom Nichols and Tim O`Brien, thank you to both of you.

Coming up, the woman who flipped her Virginia House district by one of the biggest margins of any Democrat in the country on election night, Democratic Congresswoman-elect Jennifer Wexton, tells us who she`s backing for speaker of the House.


VELSHI:  Tonight, the blue wave gets bigger again.  NBC News projects that Democrat Xochitl Torres Small is the apparent winner in New Mexico`s second congressional district.  That brings the overall Democratic gain in the House to a total of 38 seats with two races yet to be called.  But the fight over who will be the next speaker of the House is just heating up.

Today, a group of 16 Democrats signed a letter pledging to oppose Nancy Pelosi for speaker, arguing that the party needs new leadership.  "Our majority came on the backs of candidates who said that they will support new leadership because voters in hard-won districts and across the country want to see real change in Washington.  We promised to change the status quo, and we intend to deliver on that promise."

But so far, no other Democrat has officially challenged Pelosi for the speakership.  The only one who considered challenging Pelosi is Ohio Representative Marcia Fudge.  On Friday, the two sat down together for a meeting that Pelosi`s spokesperson later described as candid and respectful but Fudge didn`t sign the final copy of that letter signed by 16 Democrats.

Currently, Democrats hold 233 seats in the upcoming Congress.  Pelosi needs 218 votes to win, meaning she could only lose 15 seats on the floor.  And Ben McAdams, this gentleman here, one of the 16 signees, has yet to officially win his race in Utah.  But newly elected New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who`s been advocating new leadership told Chris Hayes on "ALL IN" earlier tonight the Democrats must have a plan to back up their message of change.


ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK, CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT:  My main concern was that there is no vision, there is no common value, there is no goal that is really articulated in this letter aside from we need to change.  And for me, what that says is, you know, I do think that we got sent to Congress on a mandate to change how government works, to change how our government even looks like.  But if we are not on the same page about changing the systems and the values and how we`re going to adapt as a party for the future, then what is the point of just changing our party leadership just for the sake of that?


VELSHI:  OK.  After the break, we`ll discuss what another of the freshman Democratic members, Congressman-elect Jennifer Wexton of Virginia thinks about the fight for speaker.


VELSHI:  Joining me now as promised, Democratic Congresswoman-elect Jennifer Wexton who flipped Virginia`s 10th congressional district.

Congresswoman-elect, welcome to the show.  Thank you for being with us.


VELSHI:  Look, this seems esoteric, but it`s important because Nancy Pelosi, like her or don`t like her, and many like her and many don`t like her, is institutional.  She is representative of the Democratic party in Congress.  She is for all intents and purposes the existing face of the Democratic party in Congress.  Arguably, that face has changed some.  Where do you stand on the issue of Nancy Pelosi as the next speaker of the House?

WEXTON:  I will be supporting Nancy Pelosi for speaker.  I think that she has what it takes and I know that we`ve got a lot of work to do.  And she`s ready to hit the ground running on day one.

VELSHI:  It looks to me -- "Politico" has an article that suggests that at least three additional lawmakers or members-elect who have confirmed to "Politico" that they intend to oppose Pelosi on the floor, Conor lamb of Pennsylvania, Abigail Spamberger of Virginia, Jason Crow of Colorado.  That could put the total number of opponents at 19, which means this may actually be a fight.  You may be involved in a campaign of some sort.

WEXTON:  Well, I would not count leader Pelosi out.  You know, she`s very capable of voting to 50 percent plus one.  And I`m sure that she has been making the rounds talking to members about what they`re looking for and what their requests would be.

VELSHI:  You know, an exit poll from NBC News on election night indicated that Nancy Pelosi has an unfavorable rating of 56 percent versus a favorable of 31 percent.  To what do you attribute that?  Somebody asked me the other day, why don`t people like Nancy Pelosi?  How would you respond to that?  What`s the thing that would cause people -- or Democrats, let`s forget Republicans who don`t like people of the other party, but let`s talk about Democrats alone.  Why do people not like Nancy Pelosi, do you think?

WEXTON:  Well, there have been about a decade`s worth of political advertising attacking her relentlessly over and over.  So that certainly has an impact, I would imagine.

VELSHI:  What do you think causes people to like her?  Because if there are 19 against her, that may still put her close enough to having enough people to put her over the top.  What`s the thing that you think Nancy Pelosi represents that Democrats should be thinking about?

WEXTON:  She`s incredibly effective.  You know she is able to shepherd through big pieces of legislation.  And that`s what we`re hoping to do over the next two years.  You know, we got, as I said, a lot of work to do.  We didn`t run on promises to oppose and obstruct.  We all ran on promises to work together and make things happen to benefit our constituents in this country.

You know, we need to work on health care.  We need to work on gun violence prevention.  We need to work on money in politics and restoring faith in good government.  There`s so much for us to do but we need a leader who`s going to be able to shepherd this legislation through Congress.

VELSHI:  And our exit polls show that health care is the most important issue to voters who voted in this past election.  That`s where they`re going to want your attention focused.

Congresswoman-elect Jennifer Wexton, congratulations on your election and thanks for joining us on the show tonight.

WEXTON:  Thank you.

VELSHI:  Tonight`s last word is next.


VELSHI:  Time for tonight`s last word.


MARTIN SHORT, COMEDIAN:  I went to Mar-A-Lago.  I played golf with him.


SHORT:  Scott canceled and they needed someone for the fourth.  Mar-A-Lago is -- that`s quite -- that`s a white club.  I mean an average member makes you look like a member of the Wu-Tang Clan.

MEYERS:  Really?

SHORT:  Ted Cruz was there.

MEYERS:  Oh, wow.  Ted Cruz was there.

SHORT:  Not for long.  He just came out and said hello and he slithered back into the bush.


VELSHI:  Martin Short gets tonight`s last word.

"THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts right now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  The breaking news tonight from "The Washington Post," Ivanka Trump used personal e-mail to conduct official business while working for the government.